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Case Number 09844: Small Claims Court

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Scummy Man

Domino Recording Company // 2006 // 16 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 11th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Adam Arseneau has a driving ban, amongst some other offenses.

The Charge

Who the @#$% are Arctic Monkeys?

The Case

If you've never heard of the Arctic Monkeys, you probably don't live in Europe or on the planet Earth. Having built up a staggeringly large and voracious fan base via the Internet, the band literally exploded from out the charts in 2006, becoming the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history—ever—as well as the fastest-selling debut indie band release in the United States, making them one of the first bands whose success came entirely from self-promotion via the Internet.

And when I say fastest selling debut band "ever"? I mean it. These guys smashed sales records that stood since the days of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They debuted at the top of the Top 20 charts outselling every other band on the list combined. Yes, that's right.

Still, for an independent band suddenly thrust into the mainstream, the Arctic Monkeys are surprisingly sullen and introversive about their success, shunning interviews and public appearances. Resisting pressure from the major labels, the band barred the scouts from attending their gigs and signed with independent label Domino Records instead, determined to maintain a degree of self-control and obscurity. Yeah, well, good luck on that last one.

Scummy Man is a bit of an oddity, not quite a music video in its own right, but rather a short film inspired by a song. The lyrics of "When the Sun Goes Down" spin a depressing tale of a young prostitute on the streets of Sheffield, turning tricks and freezing in the cold and her punter, a scummy man who would rob you blind given half the chance:

Who's that girl there?
I wonder what went wrong
So that she had to roam the streets
She dunt do major credit cards
I doubt she does receipts
It's all not quite legitimate

And what a scummy man
Just give him half a chance
I bet he'll rob you if he can
Can see it in his eyes,
That he's got a driving ban
Amongst some other offences

And I've seen him with girls of the night
And he told Roxanne to put on her red light
It's all infected but he'll be alright
Cause he's a scumbag, don't you know
I said he's a scumbag, don't you know…

Written and directed by Paul Fraser (Dead Man's Shoes, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands), Scummy Man expands the story into two short films, the narrative shifting to tell a slightly different tale. Be warned, parents of Arctic Monkey fans, as the material is not suitable for children. The film is crammed full of bad language, sexual dialogue, drug use, and uncomfortable subject matter.

Nina is a young teenage girl on the streets, turning tricks to fuel her drug habit. She is crude and callous, with a noticeable hardness about her born from circumstance. She is also clearly just a cold kid on the street, mixed up and suspicious of everyone around her—and with good reason, since she hangs out with people like George (Stephen Graham, Snatch). He is the kind of man who you might mistake for harmlessly obnoxious at first glance, but just below the surface lurks something nasty, dangerous, and ruthless. Utterly reprehensible, obnoxious, disgusting, and aggressive, a predator in every sense of the word, George lives up to his title of "scummy man." As one of her regulars, he treats her like scum.

Both a magician and a taxi driver named Jock empathize with Nina and try to offer her a helping hand, but Nina's suspicion prevents her from taking any hand offered to her. She is convinced that everyone is only out for themselves and, in a manner of speaking, she is right.

With a scant running time of 15 minutes, "Scummy Man" contains a surprising amount of nihilism and cruelty. The film is cold, needlessly so at times, treating Nina like a used Kleenex and tearing her up in a few short minutes. Everybody wants something from her, even people who appear at first glance to be kind. "Scummy Man" leaves a bad taste in the mouth, its venom and heartbreak so palpable they fill the screen. It is a tragic piece of filmmaking, but it is also beautifully composed, performed, and shot.

A five-minute featurette, "Just Another Day," functions as the more optimistic flipside to "Scummy Man," like a faint ray of sunshine on an otherwise crummy overcast day. The short revisits the same sequence of events from Jock's perspective, changing the nuances and tone of his motives to something bittersweet and slightly hopeful. It balances the terribleness of "Scummy Man" somewhat, so both features should be watched together for the optimal experience.

As a final feature, the disc also includes the Arctic Monkeys music video for "When the Sun Goes Down," which is a given. The way I see it, they'd be guilty of pretty poor judgment if they did not include it. The video is comprised of clips from both shorts, featuring no performance from the band. Luckily the single is excellent, one of the finest tracks from the album. The flow from one feature to the other is quite effective, especially if you are not familiar with the song, the clever wordplay and imagery in the lyrics take on fantastic meaning coupled with the film.

Menu design is simplistic, offering all three features with a "play all" and subtitle option on a single page, but takes an aggravating amount of time to load. Spanish subtitles are included, but the DVD seems to be under the impression it also has access to English subtitles. Try as I might, I couldn't make them work.

Shot on 16mm in music video style, the film has a gritty, urbane feel, with a surprising clarity and sharpness to the transfer. Colors are harsh and fluorescent, saturated blues and grays, with a grainy yet acceptable black level. For a low-budget shoot, the quality is excellent. A simple stereo presentation does the job well enough, capturing the minimalist piano take on the theme, as well as reasonable bass and dialogue clarity.

Since it's a short film "inspired" by a song from the trendy band of the month, it is difficult to assess exactly how self-indulgent Scummy Man intends to be. I mean, the Beatles had full-length movies made about their songs. I readily admit myself a fan of the Arctic Monkeys, but these guys are a long way off from declaring themselves bigger than Jesus, despite what their chart-topping performances may indicate. Either these guys seriously ego-tripped out or a filmmaker simply decided to coast his short film on the popularity of the hottest band in the world. Based on what I've read, the latter is more probable.

Containing less than half an hour of material total, Scummy Man has questionable mass appeal, doubly less for fans of the Arctic Monkeys. With one lone music video and nothing else band-related, many a fan will no doubt be persuaded to pick this disc up as a blind buy to find absolutely nothing of value within.

That being said, the disc is priced fairly considering the content, and Scummy Man can certainly be enjoyable when taken at face value. Well-produced and directed, the film is an excellent companion piece to a fantastic song and a bittersweet piece of short cinema. If you can divorce yourself from the monstrous multi-million dollar monstrosity that is the Arctic Monkeys, Scummy Man can stand on its own artistic merit as a sobering, gritty short film about the uglier side of street life in the UK.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 71

Perp Profile

Studio: Domino Recording Company
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Spanish
Running Time: 16 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• "Just Another Day" Short Film
• "When The Sun Goes Down" Music Video

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